5 San Francisco Day Trips to Unwind Your Mind

San Francisco is a city steeped in its own unique history and heritage. But sometimes between the fog, freeways, and fanfare the city can be stifling. A day out in Northern California ‘s sun and natural splendor is just what the doctor ordered. When you feel the urge to unwind explore these five San Francisco day trip ideas.

1. Alcatraz Island National Park

The Rock has much more to offer visitors than just the federal penitentiary. It is also the site of the first lighthouse on the west coast, a civil war fortress, and a pristine seabird sanctuary. Alcatraz Island National Park is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and park entry is free. But it is only accessible by ferry, which can sell out days in advance. Ferry reservations for your Alcatraz adventure can be made at the Alcatraz Cruises website. Tickets for adults are $26, seniors $24.50, children $16, and a cellhouse audio tour is included in the ferry’s cost.

2. Angel Island State Park and Wildlife Preserve

Hiking, biking, food and fun can all be found at Angel Island State Park and Wildlife Preserve. Day travelers can picnic on the beach or enjoy lunch at the Cove Cantina, where bike rentals and tram tours are also available. Adventure seekers can tackle a hiking trip up Mt. Livermore . The Immigration Station at Angel Island is California ‘s answer to New York ‘s Ellis Island . Guided tours are offered through the Immigration Station’s museum from Wednesday through Sunday, but the park and preserve are open nearly every day. Like Alcatraz, access to Angel Island is by ferry only. Ferry tickets can be purchased for $16 from Blue and Gold Fleet.

3. Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a gorgeous 1.5 hour drive down the California coast from the San Francisco Bay . Families with children are in for an awesome experience in the Aquarium’s Splash Zone, which contains 45 interactive exhibits. Other animal encounters include everything from penguins to Pacific octopus to pink flamingos. Ticket prices range from $19.95 to $29.95 and children under 3 are free. The aquarium is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily, except Christmas, and offers extended weekend summer hours.

4. Oakland Museum

The galleries and exhibits at the Oakland Museum showcase a vast array of California ‘s art, history, and nature. In addition to exploring various exhibits on their own, museum patrons may schedule a docent tour, stop at the Blue Oak for a late lunch or snack, and shop for unique gifts and the museum store. The Oakland Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Fridays, when they are open until 9 p.m. Admission is free for children under 8, and the cost for students, seniors, and adults ranges from $9 to $12. Free admission for everyone is offered on the first Sunday of each month.

5. Sonoma Central Plaza and State Historic Park

The city of Sonoma has been built up over the years surrounding a large, square, grassy central plaza. Sonoma Plaza itself is a National Historic Landmark. Unlike most state parks that consist of a plot of consecutive land, the Sonoma State Historic Park is made up of the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters, and Vallejo ‘s Home. All of the buildings are either right on the plaza, or within a short walk. The Mission San Francisco Solano is the northernmost mission in California and the last one built. The park is free and open to visitors daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. For a small cost, tours of the mission are available Friday through Sunday only.